Emojis R US!

I love emojis!

I remember one time writing a Whatsapp message on a friend’s phone and when I clicked on the emojis icon, was shocked to find that he had only 3 or 4 emojis appearing under his frequently used tab. I cannot understand this! How does one express oneself effectively via text if not by the use of emojis?
I can scarce complete a line of text without feeling like it could use a facial expression to go with it, to make it as close as possible to a conversation is my argument. (Also, I just fancy colour and animation.)

Somewhere between the end of 2014 and the start of 2015, I remember another friend of mine mentioning that it was about time emojis expanded their representation. Emojis were dominantly white at the time and funny enough I had never seen any problem with this. We stumbled upon this topic when my friend noted that besides a Santa Claus emoji, there was none of bearded men and I in turn noted that there were none of afro-haired individuals and then we realised that there were none of black people. I jokingly suggested we start a petition for more representation on whatsapp emojis, we laughed about it and life moved on.

In the second half of 2015, Whatsapp introduced emojis of a variety of skin tones. Representation at last!!!!

Let us start another story line at this point. The past couple of years(2012-2015), have seen the rising and thriving of the natural hair movement…yes, it is now a movement, in the world at large and more so in Kenya. We have more women embracing their natural hair texture, we have locally manufactured products for caring for our hair in it’s natural state, we are learning how to care for it ourselves and this hair movement is normally accompanied by higher health consciousness. We are now taking care of ourselves better and celebrating ourselves with great pride.

I can hardly scroll through Instagram without spotting several pro-black(black girl in particular) messages all over the place!

“Black is Beautiful”

“Brown girl, you are beautiful in every shade.”

“Black women are made out of brown sugar, cocoa, honey and gold.”

“My skin absorbs the suns rays, my hair defies gravity, you can’t tell me I’m not magical!”

“Skin so brown
Lips so round
Baby, how can’t I be down?”
-India Arie(Brown skin)

Who wouldn’t love scrolling through social media and finding all this said about them?

Not to mention all the ‘Black don’t crack’ memes. Some of those things are hilarious! My favourite one is a picture of a cute little toddler looking cheeky with the words “Black people be like…I’m 54 next week” plastered across the top and bottom.

I love it! I love it all! I feel like there is no better time to be a black girl. When everything around us is telling us we are beautiful, we are magical, celebrating our hair, celebrating our skin-tones in all their shades. Honestly, if there is a better time to be black, I’m pretty sure if I travelled through time to get there, I would end up right back here. (Unless of course things get better in the future…and I hope they do!)

**Let me take a moment to acknowledge the fact that black people in some parts of the world are suffering great discrimination and brutality and that my opinion that this is the best time ever to be black may not be widely shared.**

Back to my story, despite all the positive messages and affirmations about about being black, we still have notions within us about a certain black being beautiful and another not being as beautiful.

How do I know this? I have seen it in myself.

I was ecstatic when I finally got the chance to update my Whatsapp and check out the emojis. If you are familiar with Whatsapp and how these emojis work, initially the default one in place is white, or rather the default ones are the original ones before the different skin tones were introduced. When you click on one of these, if it has the option of various skin tones then a tab pops up with all the different options so you can choose to either go with the default or select another. The first time I used this feature, I remember being put off by the most extreme dark tone. Black. Literally black. Not shades of brown, chocolate, caramel, whatever your metaphorical preference. It was just black, or as close to black as our skin tone can get, and this put me off.

…and immediately I was ashamed of myself.
For putting a limit on the extent of black beauty.
For having a preference to lighter shades of black skin.
For deep down, even as a dark-skinned black girl, I have sometimes wished that my skin was a little lighter then I’d be beautiful.
For immediately deleting selfies off my phone because I didn’t like what my skin looked like, the lighting didn’t favour it.
For looking at others and thinking that they were just too black.

I realised I am that person that will celebrate all black everything in all it’s shades, but still have a little voice inside of me that looks at certain people and thinks them too black.

I distinctly remember watching America’s Next Top Model many many years ago, and there was an episode where one of the models was talking about her insecurities with being dark skinned. She recounted a tale of how once someone commented in a very shocked manner, that she was pretty for a dark-skinned girl. Is this supposed to be a compliment? How? I on the other end remember thinking to myself, I hope I too am pretty for a dark skinned girl, because we are conditioned to think this way. As though there is a certain limit to the extent of your beauty if your skin is of a certain shade.

Such a heavy internal battle brought on by mere emojis, I know, I know. The joys of being me.

Changing a mindset, a belief, is not easy and clearly this is one of my deep-seated issues, so I made a decision, to always go for the darkest shade when using Whatsapp emojis. I’m always so quick to say the darker the berry, the sweeter the juice, so here I am walking my talk. It’s just emojis, but as you may have picked up, emojis are important to me. 😉

My choice of emojis has not gone unnoticed. I have had more than a handful of friends, relatives, acquaintances, even strangers I happen to be in similar Whatsapp groups with, comment on my choice of emojis.

“Surely your skin is not that dark Kathleen”

“I think this is more your shade Kathleen (followed by whatever emoji I had used but in a lighter tone)”

Each time my response was very idealistic, I even wrote out a little script to use every time this happened, something to the effect that for me it is not about sticking to my shade/colour but using the darkest shade available because most people will not. It is viewed as less acceptable, less appealing, less beautiful, yet we are the same people that sing to each other and ourselves how every shade of black is beautiful and the darker the berry the sweeter the juice.

What a high horse I was riding, when in fact I had simply seen in others what I had seen in myself and in an attempt to educate the masses(where the masses is just a handful of people), I fear I may have turned a bit hostile. My apologies for those whose heads I almost bit off for commenting on my choice of emoji.

**…wondering how to end this post now…**

Perceptions of and preferences of skin colour among black people is a very very (very) complex issue. One which scares me to comment on mostly because it has very far reaching effects in my life and because I feel I should have done a bit more reading up on the topic before writing about it…but here we are now. One thing is for sure though, black IS beautiful. All the research in the world would not have led me to a different conclusion. Another thing, I shall continue with my current choice of emojis, and now perhaps I can send a link to this post whenever someone tries to get me to use a fairer shade emoji. I’m not trying to get everyone to use the darkest emojis, I bet there are those among us oblivious to the fact that whatsapp even introduced them, and others aim to use those that look most like them, which is perfectly okay. Honestly, there are bigger problems in the world, and my use of the dark-skinned emoji pales in comparison. (See what I did there? **insert laughing till I have tears streaming down my face emoji**)

“Hating skin colour is contempt for God’s divine creative imagination. Honouring it is appreciation for conscious, beautiful-love-inspired diversity.”

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    Sylvia Kieha

    “Hating skin colour is contempt for God’s divine creative imagination. Honouring it is appreciation for conscious, beautiful-love-inspired diversity.”

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